Accruing credit card rewards is just one part of a cost-saving equation for travel. You also need a strategy for how to effectively use the rewards you earn. Here’s how to do that…
First, pick your destination. Rather than having points with 20 different programs, pick where you want to go—that will determine which rewards program to focus on. Example: Say you want to travel business class to Japan from the US. Choose a credit card that has the biggest sign-on bonus…the greatest opportunity for earning miles…and partnerships with airlines that fly to Japan.
Look for the most flexible rewards, in particular, ones that can transfer to different partners. Example: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card is one of the most popular cards because Chase partners with United, Air Canada, Southwest, JetBlue and other airlines as well as Hyatt hotels. Important: Look into getting a Chase card before you apply for other cards. Chase has a 5/24 rule, which means that it will reject your application if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months. Citi and Capital One also tend to decline applications if you’ve opened too many cards too fast.
Beware how opening and closing credit cards affect your credit rating. There is no set formula for how frequently you can open and close cards without impacting your credit rating. A few guidelines…
Wait at least 45 days between opening personal cards.
Check your credit score before each application to make sure it is higher than 720. Most high-rewards cards will require a credit score of at least 720 for approval. If you apply for these types of cards with a low credit score, the denial will be noted in your credit report.
Pay credit cards off in full each month, or rewards will be negated by the interest payments on the remaining balance.
If you get rejected for a card, call the company’s reconsideration hotline, which you can find by Googling “[credit card company] reconsideration hotline.” Address any concerns that the issuer has, which should be laid out for you in the rejection letter. Example: If you were denied because the issuer feels you’ve already been extended too much credit, ask to split one of your current credit lines between your existing account and the new card you’ve just applied for.
Don’t close out cards that have no annual fee. Keeping these cards open will help to preserve your credit line.
If a card has an annual fee: Call the card issuer, and ask for a retention offer so that the annual fee is waived…or ask if you can downgrade the card to a no-fee version.
Research the best way to earn and use points. Google the phrase “points sweet spots” plus the type of credit card points you have. Examples: “Chase points sweet spots” or “Amex points sweet spots.” You also can include a destination you want to visit if you have a particular trip in mind. Useful apps: CardPointers and Travel Freely. Also: Join Facebook groups and follow Instagram accounts that discuss points and miles.